Two Cities on the Verge of Political Combustion
While we didn’t plan it that way, our stays in Madrid and Barcelona were not defined by boozy bars, or sophisticated art museums. Political tensions arising from Madrid’s standoff with Barcelona and Catalonia took center stage. These two powerhouses of cities were embarking down a road the could possibly change Spain forever and we were there to witness the very beginnings of that struggle. Where that road leads to, no one really knows yet for sure. One thing for certain is where Madrid wants that road to lead, and where Barcelona does as well (maybe?).
These two mega cities are what define much of Spain. In the center of Spain lies the capital Madrid. In Roman times, all roads led to Rome. As for Spain, all roads within its borders seamlessly end up in Madrid. There is no way to overstate Madrid’s influence on the country as it is a center for the economy and culture. Barcelona, an 8 hour bus ride away, sits firmly on the Mediterranean cost. Acting more like a little brother to Madrid, Barcelona is much more relaxed and go with the flow kind of feel. Its streets are
decorated with abstract architecture (Including the Cathedral 100 years in the making), and its beaches and streets provide a carefree atmosphere that still holds a powerful influence to those who visit and Spain as a whole. As with how most brothers are, these two cities have not always met eye to eye and that has lead to the conflict unfolding at the time of writing. A standoff between those who seek Catalonian independence from Spain and those who seek to preserve the undissolvable union of the country is currently underway.
Walking the streets of Madrid, it is very easy to see which side most locals are on when it comes to the issue of Catalonian independence. A large portion of the balconies that adorn Madrid’s central district are clad with the Spanish national flag. The day of the Catalonian vote, droves of locals took to the streets to protest, waving flags about the streets or walking around wearing the red and yellow flag like a cape. Most people in Madrid felt that Catalonia’s vote was against the Spanish constitution. Signs calling for peace and unity were paraded about the squares in support for a unified Spain. The patriotism and nationalism felt in Madrid during this time was apparent. These people were proud to be Spanish and sought to preserve the Spain they loved and cherished.
After spending 3 days in Madrid, Barcelona and its people held a completely different perspective. While Catalonia and Barcelona as a whole are very much divided on the issue of independence, the night we arrived was a very different story. As more and more news came out about the way the police attempted to dismantle voting stations and prevent people from voting, the more angry Barcelona and the region became. The violence portrayed in the accounts and images coming out of Barcelona had united nearly all in Barcelona to come together. Whether for or against independence, most locals strongly disapproved of the way the Spanish government handled the situation and felt that Democracy had been threatened that day. In response, the night we arrived was quite noisy with the banging of pots and pans. From balconies and the streets, people held out pots and pans, banging
on them furiously, creating a sound the echoed throughout the streets. For those not at home, lamp posts served a similar purpose and for those driving by, honking their horns continuously did the trick. This traditional form of protest, while simple, felt very powerful as we walked the streets in search of our Airbnb. It was clear that Barcelona was very, very angry with the actions carried out by Spain.
The next morning, Claire and I began to explore the city and soon realized that the flags adorning the balconies of Barcelona’s buildings were very much different than those of Madrid. Rather than the flag of Spain, most balconies held the Catalonian flag, while others had flags that simply said ‘Si’ (yes) in regards to the vote for independence. Others still had flags of a face with red tape over its mouth with the words above reading ‘Democracy’. This city was clearly at a crossroads, but at the time, was very united as a whole due to the actions carried out by the police the day before.
While these two cities were clearly in the middle of a major political crisis, there is a lot to love about these unique places.
Madrid: A Party Animal that Keeps One Foot in the Past
Madrid has to be one of the cheapest capitals of Western Europe to vacation to. With so many public spaces to explore and free ticket times for many museums and art galleries, Madrid can be an extremely affordable place to go. Central Madrid is covered in ornate architecture and history. Every few blocks seems to reveal another beautifully designed
square surrounded by renaissance and baroque architecture. Restaurants with tantalizing dishes abound along practically every street. Madrid is simply a city to be walked. With a few Kilometers under your feet, you can explore most of the major site seeing areas. Old public squares provide plenty of resting places as you go about exploring. In the evenings, save time to hit up one of the two world acclaimed art museums while you ponder over famous works by Picasso, Goya, and Rafael. If you’re on a budget, hit these places up for when they are free. The last two hours of each day, these two museums open their doors to the public free of charge. If you want to make the most of those two hours however, you will have to get in line an hour early, otherwise you will be waiting in line for half the time you could be exploring the art galleries. For those who like to party, Madrid does not disappoint.
It felt that every night of the week was alive with people out and about having a good time with friends and alcohol. As for the weekend, the streets by our apartment were so loud up until the wee hours of the morning that we had trouble sleeping (yeah, we were lame and didn’t go out on the weekend). Basically, Madrid has it all in a fun sized package and is friendly to all budgets.
Barcelona: Madrid’s Cool Little Brother
While Madrid likes to dip into the wild side, Barcelona takes it a step further. Located right on the coast of the Mediterranean, Barcelona has a much more carefree atmosphere but during our visit, this was dampened by the ongoing protests. The city
has its fair share of abstract architecture most notably, Sagrada Familia, the Cathedral that is still under construction 100 years later. This is guaranteed to be like no other cathedral you have seen. Looking more like a tree than a church, it is quite the piece of art and worth a tour. Unfortunately, Claire and I did not book tickets in advance and were not able to see the inside of the Cathedral. Our favorite place in Barcelona however, was wandering the narrow cobblestone streets of the medieval district. The buildings in this area are beautiful and it makes for a wonderful afternoon of exploring. The beach, while not breathtaking, is a nice way to take a break from the city and relax for a day. The water is clear and the sun is out for most of the year.
In our opinion, we felt that the legendary city of Barcelona is overrated. If you are looking to party and blow money on boos, then by all means, this is the perfect place to go. However, we felt that Madrid held the best of both worlds. A plethora of culture, history, museums, and night life. Now if it only had a beach…